St Augustine on knowledge

St. Augustine is one of the key figures who placed the foundation of Western Christianity in a formal pagan Roman Empire. He was an Algerian-Roman philosopher and theologian of the late early Medieval period. He was also among the great four fathers of the Latin Church. His work was mainly based on Christian orthodoxy mingled with the elements of Plato and new-Platonism. His idea of the acquisition of knowledge is somehow similar to that of Plato’s.

He believed that the knowledge acquired by means of five senses is just a little portion of knowledge which is incomplete. Knowledge attained by sense perception is of the lower level. The knowledge of higher level can never be attained by sense. Sense’s objects are subject to change. Through sense, one can only know the physical quality of things and overall world. In order to achieve the knowledge of the intelligible world, one has to stimulate the power of the mind. The mind of human beings is capable of leading one to the intelligible world or the world of God.

The intelligible world of St Augustine is closely related to Plato’s world of ideas or forms. To justify the world of ideas, one necessarily needs to reach the first step that is the sensible world. Without knowing the sensible world, the world of forms is unknowable. Therefore, the sensible world cannot be ignored. One will know about the world of God only after he/she will know the sensible world. After knowing the physical world, one can activate his/her mind in order to transcend into the world of forms or world of God.

St Augustine was a religious figure; therefore, he had a religious notion of the acquisition of the knowledge. He asserts that the world and all human beings are created by God. Therefore, God enlightens the minds of human beings with His light. Through the spiritual illumination of God’s light onto men’s mind, men can achieve the higher knowledge of the world of God. To know God, one needs a mind which apprehends the truth beyond physical existence. Divination of God can only be achieved by the human mind. God is the supreme planner. He plans the path of truth and reality for men. God’s great ideas illuminate on human minds like God has imprinted his ideas on human minds.

In short, St Augustine posits that human senses are attracted towards physicality of things and physical world. However, the human mind is attracted towards God’s eternity, reality and truth. Knowledge attained by sense cannot be ignored because it is the first step that leads to the greater knowledge that is the knowledge of the world of God.

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